Top My Bottom!

By Lora Somoza 08/14/15

In AA, why do we brag about the worst times in our lives?


I’m sitting at brunch with a few friends in recovery. My friend Barry has dragged along a dazed newcomer to soak up some fellowship. Over gluten-free pancakes and a tofu scramble, we wax poetic about the latest yoga trends and why vaping has become so last year. We can’t help ourselves. It is LA. But inevitably, the conversation drifts back to darker days and what brought us to our knees. Vague one-liners about dreadful hangovers are quickly one-upped by stories starting with, “Oh yeah, well this one time, I came to in some guy’s place I’ve never seen before…” 

And it’s Game. On.

It really is like a game we play. Or more like a game show from the '70s. You can almost hear the cheesy intro music and see the host with a loud three-piece disco suit jog onto the stage. And out we come, enthusiastic contestants ready to spill our guts about the most dreadful moments of our lives. We smile and wave to the audience as the announcer welcomes the audience to, “TOP! MY! BOTTOM!”

The object of the game is simple really. Whoever had the most humiliating and horrific drunken experience that acted as the catalyst to finally get them sober, wins. 

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My friend Angie* is the first contestant and she starts strong with “DUI Fucked Up.” She tells us how she drove her convertible into some white picket fence in Beverly Hills. Two men stopped to help her. She drunkenly tried to pick up on one of the guys, who turned out to be an LA Laker. Sadly, she couldn’t give the Laker her number because the cops took her away. That and she was a hot mess. 

Contestant #2 is Barry and he is sure he’s going to win with his “I Woke Up Where?” story. Barry, a native Brit, and his friend got blindingly drunk one night in London back in the '90s. They thought it would be a great idea to go travel so they booked a flight and proceeded to drink the entire way. He blacked out until they landed and he came to with a rather large man standing over him, telling him he was in Zimbabwe. For obvious reasons, they weren’t actually allowed in the country and now are also banned from British Airways for life.

I try my hand as contestant #3, "Goodbye Cruel World" being my specialty. I tell about the time I was in a friend’s car after a day of drinking. During the drive home, I decided to take a look at all that was wrong with my life and came to the conclusion that I needed to get out of it, so I jumped out of the car, going 60mph on the freeway. OK, maybe I didn’t think it through.

Contestant #4, Sarah, who just celebrated seven years of sobriety, laughs and says she’ll crush us all with her “Insane in the Membrane” bottom. After family turmoil and several suicide attempts, she finally hit her bottom by drinking a half-gallon of vodka every day and wandering through the woods for a week, half-naked, looking for bombs. 

I look over at the newcomer, Isabelle. She has gone from a little ball of misery to a girl cracking a smile. 

Morbid? Sure, to ordinary folks. It may seem crazy to share the darkest chapters in our lives. Why would alcoholics do such a thing?

Connection. We share our most painful moments to show others that we too survived this toxic Titanic just hit by a vodka-berg. We show our battle scars and tell our insane war stories to prove we belong or let others know that they do, too.

"I think addicts and alcoholics in early recovery lack the ability to conceive of what life in recovery is like,” explains Aaron Olson, primary addiction counselor at Cirque Lodge. “The experience of addiction is what they know and how they connect until they begin to experience the realities of recovery."

I remember going to my first meetings, terrified and guarded. How the hell can these people help me? I was a broken, hopeless 17-year-old girl who had terrible secrets. I had done horrible things and was a horrible person. I was drowning in shame.

And at first, I would sit in meetings and all I heard were mothers complaining about their kids and some guy’s on-again/off-again relationship. I thought, Are you kidding me? What am I supposed to get from this? I'd like to change how I feel NOW. I want someone to say something to help me NOW.

But then I got dragged to coffee at Denny’s and had my own version of "Top My Bottom" played out in front of me. Three young women began belting out their stories like rock songs. Stories of getting arrested, stealing money from family to run away to a different state, cheating on spouses, just basically turning into human hurricanes, destroying everything in their path. Here they were telling me their tales of woe, any one of them would have sent me leaping off a bridge and they were laughing about it. And I have to admit, I laughed, too. Because now they had completely changed their lives around and the past was no longer holding them hostage. They could laugh at these tragic events and I left feeling like maybe I wasn’t so horrible after all.

After getting a little time under my belt, I found myself enjoying the game. I could go toe-to-toe on each bottom. Oh, you tried to kill yourself? Get in line, sister, my attempts have got yours beat. Went to three rehabs? That’s adorable, I’ve hit four.

This is reason number two: Why do we boast about our bottoms? Because fuck shame. That’s why. I’m not going to let it rule my life any longer. So if I can lay all my dirt out in front of you, then it can’t hurt me anymore. We shed the shame of our past by sharing it with others.

For about six years, I celebrated my sober anniversary with a man who got sober a couple of days before me. And every year, he would show up at the big Friday night Beverly Hills meeting, all dolled up, carrying a 3x5 mugshot of himself. It was taken on his last drunk night. The picture and his story were a doozy. He loved flaunting that nasty mugshot brazenly as he enjoyed another year of sobriety and he was greeted with an extra hearty round of applause. Good going, man, you did it up right. 

What can start off as simply boasting about our bottoms, can then become an act of helping others while reminding ourselves of where we never want to go again.

I have shared from a large stage about jumping out of a car in a drunken panic. I have shared about the relationships I destroyed, the numerous blackouts and sheer hatred I felt looking in the mirror after a night drowning in vodka. Not one ounce of shame was felt when I talked about these experiences. But I can see my last drunk day as if it was seated next to me. It is my reminder to stay ever vigilant. 

So who won the game? It was a tie. Because the feelings of despair and hopelessness were all the same.

The good news is that we all got the grand prize. It may not be a trip to the Bahamas, but it is a true connection with others, an ability to let go of your past and the chance to show others you’ve been to hell and somehow made it back.  

*Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent

Lora Somoza is a writer and the host of Between the Sheets with Lora Somoza.

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